Even the Justice League Works Remotely

A RubyConf talk on non-senior remote developers

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This year I had the honor of speaking at RubyConf about a topic that is very important to me… The Justice League. The talk was entitled “Even the Justice League Works Remotely”. At the heart of it, the talk discussed non-senior remote developers covering a variety of topics. These topics included, for employers, how to find the right non-senior remote candidate to hire and what a company needs to have in place for this person to succeed. For job seekers, I spoke about what questions they need to ask themselves before becoming a remote employee and what sorts of things to ask potential employers to make sure they finding the right fit.


For employers seeking a remote employee, there are a variety of characteristics you want to be looking for. You want someone who takes initiative and will recognize problems and work to solve them. Someone who asks questions, both technical and non. Whenever this person has questions, especially technical ones, it’s important they feel comfortable putting themselves out there in Slack channels or group meetings in order to offer their perspective or get unblocked. Additionally, look at the overall person and not just their technical ability. Have they worked remotely before? Were they a professional in another indusutry and are new to software development world? All these things are important considerations for finding the right person to hire. Lastly, you want to find someone who wants to keep learning. This is something that most companies say they want, but rarely do they actually incorporate it into the questions they are asking a candidate.

Sometimes the hardest part for employers is coming up with what those behavioral or situational questions can be so here’s a list of examples:

  • Tell me about a time you recognized a problem that needed to be solved. How did you realize a problem existed? Did you do anything about it? If so, what.
  • Tell me how you feel about asking questions. When was a time you needed to ask questions where you were a little hesitant to do so and how did you overcome that.
  • When was a time you were really challenged by a technical problem you needed to solve. How did you approach it? Did you ask for help?, etc.
  • Tell me about a time when lack of communication led to an issue. What happened and was it resolved? If so, how?
  • How do you like to communicate as a remote member of team? How do you ensure you’re communicating effectively?
  • What do you think is a really effective way to communicate? And how have you utilized this in the past?
  • What are the best and worst parts of working remotely?
  • Tell me about a time you needed to learn a new skill, technical or not. How did you decide you needed to learn that particular skill? What did you do to learn?

The nice thing about finding a candidate with the above characteristics is that it really limits what you need to provide as an employer. Make sure that you have a good manager for them, a kind and supportive team, that you check in on them periodically, and that you already have a partially remote team.

Job Seekers

If you’re looking for a job there are some really important questions you need to ask yourself. First, do you like asking questions? Asking questions… A lot of them in a variety of forums, is a critical key to success in a remote employment situation. Next, get feedback on how long it takes you to complete tasks. You can do this by taking notes about how long it takes to complete things and then reviewing that with your manager or team to find out if you should be asking for help sooner or working on something a bit longer. Then, set aside time for pairing. It’s really helpful when you can see other people and don’t want to bother them to put pairing time in the calendar. This ensures you’re getting the help you need without being worried about interrupting your colleagues. Make sure to talk about what’s not working.

There will be bumps in the road, but make sure you’re discussing them, bringing them up, and offering solutions that are a good place to start. Companies are still pretty new to the idea of having remote developers at all levels so be proactive to help improve less-than-ideal situations that might arise. And fill the gap. The worst part about not working in an office is that you don’t get the random chatter, overhearing technical approaches, terms, or concepts you might want to investigate so fill the gap by co-working and attending user groups. This way, even though you’re not working in the same place as your colleagues, you’re still working with fellow developers on a regular basis.

Finally and most importantly, ask yourself if you can be self-directed and figure out what to do all day, every day, especially when you’re blocked. Can you figure out things to learn or do? Be really brutally honest about this because if you’re going to get distracted or not ask questions, a remote working situation is probably not going to work for you.

Beyond personality related considerations, there are a few technical concerns to take into account. First, check your internet connection. Doing software development on bad internet is awful and it’s even worse when you throw in remote pairing and remote video conferencing. Second, if you want to move around at all, then invest in some good headphones so you can hear the people you’re talking to and so the microphone doesn’t pick up all the noise around you.

Ending up at the wrong company as a non-senior developer can be isolating. And in the wrong atmosphere, it can be detrimental to your confidence and potential for growth.

When interviewing for a remote developer position, you want to ask questions like:

  • What is the best part about working for the company? And what do you most want to improve?
  • How often do you bring the team together in person and what do these gatherings look like?
  • How do you support remote folks to make sure they’re included?
  • Ask about onboarding. How does it work? How do people get ramped up? etc. What do the first few weeks look like?
  • A specific question for the person who could be your manager ask what they think are the most important characteristics of a manager?
  • Tell me about a time when a remote hire didn’t work out. Why do you think this was the case and what did you change to prevent it from happening again?
  • Tell me about a time you’ve mentored, paired, or learned with a remote less experienced developer than yourself, what went well and what was challenging?

Again you can find the slides from my RubyConf talk here, and you can check out the video of it here.

You can also find more information at this blog post and this one

Photo of Allison McMillan

Allison was first introduced to programming at a Rails Girls workshop after a career as a nonprofit executive. She is also an international conference speaker living in the Washington, DC area. When she’s not writing code for us, she invests her time leading the People Committee which focuses on the health and happiness of our team members!